Dhaka found back its livelihood on Sunday, even if by risking life, amidst a record 40 deaths from Covid-19
After more than two months, the din of the Dhaka city changed once again, from dead silence to the old cacophony of cars honking and rickshaws jingling bells in traffic jams.
Dhaka found back its livelihood on Sunday, even if by risking life, amidst a record 40 deaths from Covid-19, as official data can confirm. For thousands of Dhaka dwellers, it was a mixed feeling of relief and trepidation, reckoning and reckless journey to office, finding work to put food on the table and waking up to the mostly old rhythm of life.
There are now debates about lifting the shutdown. It simply was not bearable anymore considering the economic fallout as hundreds of thousands had lost livelihoods. But in the end, the entire idea of shutdown to flatten the pandemic curve has turned futile as the authorities made a poor, half-hearted attempt at keeping people at home.
At the last count, the infection rate has spiked and so have death rates. It actually is at the peak of the pandemic curve, if there is no further deterioration in the coming days or weeks, when the shutdown has been summarily ended.
Unlike most other rickshaw pullers, Monir Miah and his family got stuck in Dhaka city in the first weeks of the nationwide shutdown. His daughter did not get paid in time and they could not leave for their country home.
The last two months for Monir were marked with an unusual struggle – looking for passengers in empty streets, attempting to get enlisted in the local councillor's office for relief and searching for any random food handouts.
The government's announcement to end what it called general holidays brought a profound sense of relief for Monir. At least his worries for livelihood is over for now. "Who does not have fear for life? But to stay alive, you need to eat as well," he said.
With the end of the "holidays'', the city slowly started to reopen Sunday morning. The Business Standard correspondents report on the reopening from around the city.
Mirpur, Farmgate and New Market
The shopping malls in Mirpur and Farmgate were mostly closed until midday at the writing of this report. Only a few stores were open on the ground floors but the main gates of the malls were still locked.
About seventy percent of the shops in Dhaka New Market were open with mostly female shoppers making purchases.
Only a few book shops opened in the Nilkhet books market. There was virtually no traffic pressure in the area.
Nawabpur at Old Dhaka stirs again
In Old Dhaka's landmark Nawabpur market, employees were cleaning the hardware stores with an eye to normal business again.
Waliullah, owner of a hardware store in the area, said no customers had arrived in the morning.
The workshops in Dholaikhal and Dholaipar had also opened their doors. The workers had stayed mostly out of work for the last two months but basic necessities had overpowered their fear of death from the unseen virus.
"We know that coronavirus is dangerous, but we need money," Shabuj, a lathe machine operator told The Business Standard.
Gulshan, Banani and Mahakhali
Only one-third of the offices and shopping centres reopened in the city's Gulshan, Banani and Mohakhali areas. Traffic was easy on the streets, but there was moderate traffic at the entry points of Gulshan.
Employees and cars were being disinfected before they entered the office premises. Some offices had hand washing facilities in front of their buildings. All office goers were seen wearing masks while some of them were even wearing personal protective equipment and gloves.
Long queues outside banks, post offices
Banks and post offices all over the city had long queues outside. At the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority, a crowd of around 400 people waited in front of the bank as the bank's server was down. A few hundred had gathered in front of the token counters since early morning for getting license and renewing documents as their vehicles would be on the streets again with the end of the shutdown.
On Sunday, investors' turnout on the trading floors of the stock exchange and brokerage houses was very low. Staffers were working under duty rosters.
Few orders were coming over the telephone, putting some life in the market. A large number of brokerage professionals as well as investors were yet to return to Dhaka from their hometowns.
Commuters in trouble
Although businesses and offices reopened, resumption of rail and road transport has not been coordinated accordingly. Train and launch services have resumed, while buses are scheduled to run from today. People going to work were unhappy. They said that transports should have started at least a day before the end of the shutdown.
The city commuters suffered as there were no buses running. Hundreds of them waited at various intersections and bus stops in the vain hope of getting a ride. Demand for auto-rickshaws and rickshaws were high, and fares went up.
Russel Ahmed was waiting at Mirpur-11 bus stop for a vehicle to go to Chawkbazar. "I have been looking for a rickshaw or something else for half an hour, but no one will go that far. The government has started everything except the transport. Is this a joke?"
People who left Dhaka before or during the general holidays also had trouble finding vehicles to return.
Health guideline violations
Whenever a free auto-rickshaw arrived at an intersection, at least a dozen commuters flocked around trying to get in. The three-wheelers have been carrying four passengers each for relatively long-distance trips.
Passengers huddled together not only in the back seat, but also beside the driver. Some of the commuters also expressed their concerns about the violation of health guidelines during the ongoing pandemic.
People coming from outside Dhaka also crowded at different points on the highways for vehicles, and rode huddled in pickups and human hauliers.
"God will protect"
Abdul Aziz, 55, is a restaurant owner living in Wari. He closed his restaurant when the shutdown began. He did not, however, stop to go out to socialise with friends during that time.
Now that the shutdown is officially over, he is all set to open the restaurant again, a decision protested by his family members. But Aziz is unimpressed, saying, "Whatever Allah wills."
Many others joining work expressed similar sentiments. They cannot afford to stay at home without work. For them, God is their last refuge.
Many private sectors employees have faced pay cuts so they were mostly in favour of reopening. Roadside shop owners totally supported the government's decision to lift the shutdown. Many of them had to borrow to survive. They are scared of contracting the virus as well, but in the end, desperation won.
The privileged few working-from-home would like to continue the same way.
A wrong signal
Some people told The Business Standard that they think the shutdown should have continued for a few more weeks. The restaurant owner Abdul Aziz's son, Sohan Rahat, a photographer by profession who also faced cancelled assignments, said, "The lifting of the shutdown will send a wrong message to people like my father who took the pandemic lightly."
People can become more careless, he feared.
For some, fear was more real than others. Sanzida Akter works at a public bank in the Tejgaon area. An employee of her branch had tested positive who is now under treatment at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital.
Several other fevered employees were on leave. Although she and some of her colleagues enjoyed the holidays during the shutdown, now the bank has asked all the remaining workers to join.
A mother of a two-year-old son, Sanzida said she was extremely worried about contracting the virus from her workplace.
While talking to The Business Standard, some were even in a humorous mood about the lifting of shutdown.
Imran Parvez, a private bank official, said, "I have not enjoyed a two-month holiday in the last 15 years of my career. Now that the holidays are over, waking up in the morning will be a problem. I have not woken up before 10:30 in the morning in the last two months."
Others said they had to remain alert all the time while working at home. Text messages from the boss would arrive at any moment of the day or night. They are happy that this will end, and the work hour will be limited again.
The first Covid-19 patient was detected in Bangladesh on March 8. The government initially announced a 10-day general holiday from March 26, which was extended in seven phases until May 30.